“The series doesn’t start until the home team loses a game.”
NBA analysts will spew this age-old adage any time an away team falls down 0-2 in a playoff series. As it turns out, the logic of that phrase is idiotic when applied to the NBA. However, this moronic basketball cliché is surprisingly applicable to the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final.
As Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News pointed out, in nine of the last 11 Stanley Cup Finals, a team has taken a 2-0 lead. In those nine series, the team that fell behind was able to force at least a Game 6 seven times and a Game 7 three times, winning the series twice. Five of those seven teams went down 0-2 on the road, including the two teams that eventually won the series—the 2009 Penguins and the 2011 Bruins.
Of course, simply saying that the Predators have a two-in-nine chance of winning the series is to ignore the context of the two games that have already transpired. The fact that Pekka Rinne has allowed eight goals in the first two games of the series on only 36 shots is worrisome. The offense has looked stagnant at times and surely misses first-line centerman Ryan Johansen. At under 15 percent coming into the series, the power play is anemic. Despite scoring two goals in Game 1 on the man-advantage, they failed to convert on four power plays in Game 2, including a 5-on-3. As it stands, the outlook seems bleak.
The 2011 Boston Bruins
While there’s very little reason for legitimate optimism, now is not quite the time to panic. Predators fans can take solace in that this Nashville team bears resemblance to the most recent team to win the Cup after falling behind 0-2—the 2010-11 Boston Bruins.
The Predators are built from the blue line out. The strongest part of their game is on the defensive end. Their power play has struggled for the entirety of the playoffs, but their penalty kill has been one of the strongest. They’ll have to come back from down 0-2 without one of their top offensive threats. This comeback will need to come at the expense of one of the top offenses in the league and a potent power play. These are all things that could have been said about the 2011 Bruins.
Even the way the series has started in terms of antipathy is reminiscent of the 2011 matchup between the Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. Two teams with no prior rivalry seem to have developed some animosity over the course of two games. Whether it’s been Mattias Ekholm punching Jake Guentzel in the face with a gloved hand after the whistle, or Chris Kunitz cross-checking P.K. Subban in the back of the neck a few times, something is brewing. Even the pugilistically disinclined Subban and Evgeni Malkin scuffled a bit, regardless of the fight’s resemblance to a semi-aggressive bear hug.
Obviously, the comparison isn’t perfect. Tim Thomas had perhaps the best performance by a goaltender in Cup Final history. However, Rinne has shown the ability to steal games this playoff stretch and should calm down in subsequent games. If not, highly competent backup Juuse Saros could be ready to step in and do his best impression of 2016 Matt Murray.
Nashville’s Home Crowd
The one, true reason for optimism—at least for the next couple of games—is that the Predators enjoy a very real home-ice advantage. They have won seven of their eight home games these playoffs and possess a plus-12 goal differential in those games. It’s easy to draw the conclusion that the best home crowd in the playoffs might have something to do with it. Regardless of how you feel about dead catfish chugging beer, the Nashville fans have been unbelievable. Their deafening, coordinated chants would be as much at home in a European soccer stadium as they are at Bridgestone Arena.
It’s easy to root for a team like Nashville. They’re an atypical hockey market that has cultivated a rabid fan base since their inception prior to the 1998-99 season. The city of Nashville itself has been on the rise over the past few years, and it’s great to see the Predators are along for the ride. The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs have done wonders for the perception of Nashville as a legitimate hockey town.
Despite what an NBA analyst might say, yes, the series has begun, and Nashville is at a disadvantage. Clearly, this isn’t the ideal situation for the Predators. No team wants to be down 0-2 in the championship series in any sport. However, hockey is the sport in which it is most manageable. Predators fans should be nervous. However, they can channel that nervous energy into powering their team through the two upcoming home games.